Thursday, July 19, 2007

Madrid II: some high and low lights

Some highlights from Madrid, aside from the perfect weather, great people, and wonderful neighborhood vibe:

-Informal live flamenco in La Latina. This place, whose name I will not divulge because too many tourists are beginning to appear there, is where flamenco aficionados, amateurs, and the odd professional congregate to hang out and play informally. It’s not nearly as good as going to a legit professional show, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper, likely more intimate, and extremely fun. Flamenco really is not so much a music as a culture, and in certain Madrid spots you can see it in all its wine-guzzling, chain-smoking glory. These guys are having a lot of fun, and its impossible for visitors not to appreciate it.

-Speaking of visitors, my friend had 2 cousins visiting from an anonymous Euro country. These nice, young, ignorant people did not appreciate flamenco, nor anything else about Madrid or Spanish culture. They were 16 and 22 and so utterly provincial and boring that I wanted to slap them. All they wanted to do was go to the municipal pool every day! Granted, that place is wonderful (they’ve got real grass, tons of shade, and several pretty pools, plus a nice café, etc), but they had no interest in seeing the real city, aside from visiting shops like Zara and H&M. Don’t get me wrong, the girls seems very nice, but they are the worst kind of tourists, and should be eliminated (from tourism, at least).

-sunsets from anywhere between the Royal Palace up to the Parque del Oeste. Picnic central. Great sunset over the Sierra of Madrid, light on the old town “skyline” of the cathedral and som other churches. In the summer there are live concerts or jazz or classical each night in the Plaza Oriente, and you can just sit back and take it in, have a drink at a café or sit on the grass and have a picnic. The other option is to run in the larger Parque del Oeste during this time, which is simply glorious, as the heat is dramatically reduced and you can see the color of the sky and trees change, and smell the pine in your lungs. (again, pics soon, I promise)

-partying with NYU undergrads who’d just finished summer courses in Madrid, some of whom were old students of mine. They were quite excited to get to discover that their teachers could party with the best of them. Highlights include trying not to stare too long at 18 year old girls, and going to the Pacha club and 3 of us being turned away-- me, because I was wearing shorts and sandals (didn't want to go in anyway), the other two, because they "didn't look right," which is always tought to hear when you are dressed up. Anyway we just went back to the other bar, where some crazy dancying ensued. I believe I have potentially incriminating photos and video.

-the Rastro on Sunday. This is one of the coolest markets anywhere, and certainly the place to be in Madrid on Sunday morning/afternoon, just as much for people watching as shopping. Clothes, accessories, knickknacks, touristy stuff, antiques, bags, shoes-- much of reasonable quality or better, and most at good prices. A thrilling throbbing mass of people walking up and down the long hilly shady street in search of the perfect bargain. A charming mix of natives, tourists, and pickpockets. After they close down at 2pmish, it’s time for lunch at neighboring La Latina, where the place is full of young cool-looking people eating and drinking out in the plaza, nestled under umbrella canopies. The perfect vibe (aside from the friggin cops; see below), unlike anywhere else I've been.

-police presence. Lowpoint. In order to enfore the infamous botellon law, the Madrid cops (just like those here in Barcelona), are out in force, roving bands of 4 or 8, and rather funny-looking in their neon yellow “pedestrian friendly” shirts. The civilian police are around just to make sure everything is chill, and that groups of people are not drinking in public areas. People chat with them and vice versa—they are not intimidating (on the contrary, the few I talked to were quite charming—probably because they appreciate being on what I’d call the “chaperone shift”. Their job is to ruin what used to be a good vibe. When we used to hang out in Plaza 2 de Mayo, the center of Malasana, we’d do so with litros in hand… others would be smoking joints. Same deal at the Rastro. These days it’s harder to find this (though it remains an ingrained part of youth culture) because the police drive around popular areas on their little motos, doing laps and wasting taxpayer money. People still hang out, and the scene remains lively around restaurants and cafes that set up in plazas—but still, the city has noticeably lost something. This isn't a black and white issue, because neighborhood residents have a right to sleep in peace; but still, my general feeling remains, "Bummer, dude."

No comments: